Richardson — At the time of year when just about every ballet company in the world restages the familiar holiday classic about nuts, sweet things, and snowy landscapes, Ballet Dallas goes out on a limb with three world premieres for Inspired Voices, a decidedly un-Christmas-like performance that still harnesses the spirit of thinking outside oneself for a season. Presented in the intimate Bank of America Theater at Richardson’s Charles W. Eisemann Center for the Performing Arts, the company delivers one of the more interesting shows of the season.
Variations of Healing opens the evening, choreographed by New York City Ballet corps member Silas Farley. Don’t let his seemingly lower status on the ballet hierarchy fool you, however. He serves on the Board of Directors of The George Balanchine Foundation and is a highly acclaimed and sought-after choreographer and teacher. The neo-classical style and unique musicality in the choreography reflect the Balanchine roots in his training and professional career. Set to music by Arvo Pärt that’s not as recognizable in the dance world (thankfully), the work allows the five dancers’ individual talents to shine as well as challenge their abilities in ensemble work.
The choreography of the first segment, set to Arbos, mirrors the canon found in the music. Quick allegro with suspended developpés form motifs found throughout the work. The mood grows somber and heavy with the organ score of Annum per Annum, and while their technical execution is remarkable, their inconsistency of performance quality makes the overall essence of this section unclear.
The last section features Pärt’s minimalist piano, as Alizah Wilson, Diana Crowder, and Kaley Jensen each have time in the spotlight with solos. While all three perform exceptionally, Crowder stands out with her precision and dynamic range. Despite the work’s grand opening, the choice to end the work with Wilson quietly bouréeing offstage while the curtain closes is a bit puzzling.
After a brief pause, the tone grows more contemporary with Takia Hopson’s Escaping Lost. The string quartet sounds of Zoë Keating matches exquisitely with Hopson’s engaging choreography and captivating transitions. The rich burgundy dresses (courtesy of Eugenia Stallings at SMU, Hopson’s alma mater) on the 10-member cast have a mesmerizing effect with their stunning color, differing styles, and weighted flow.
The piece has more of a progression to follow, even without a strong linear narrative. Laura Pearson dances the role of the outsider, desperately trying to fit in and not provoke the ire of the group. Ensemble choreography at first tends more angular, with strong gestural phrases sprinkled throughout. Pearson demonstrates excellent emotional depth with her despair, fear, and finally, defiance and acceptance of self. Kendall Lockhart especially shines in her execution and performance qualities.
Act II displays co-artistic director Carter Alexander’s Oratorio, set to music by Camille Saints-Säens. Fernando Hernandez designs a unique, but still traditional costume with a peasant shirt for the three men and peasant-style corset tops and long skirts for the ladies, all in olive green and cream. This work also features dancers from Contemporary Ballet Dallas’ youth ensemble, and Alexander does a lovely job with spacing and vocabulary to match their emerging talents. It’s the longest work, but the music and choreographic choices give it a nice flow. Vocabulary tends towards neo-classical, and while the individual movements can be repetitive, his strengths lie in spatial patterns and fascinating juxtapositions. The dance also boasts delicate partnering and a variety of emotions.
Overall, the company has increasingly attracted higher caliber dancers, and while they’re all uniquely impressive, guest dancer Addison Ector shines the brightest. His articulation, extension, and control are definite highlights of the evening.
The intimacy of the performance space is a downside for Alexander’s work. The stage is a bit narrow, and while the closing choreography with all cast members on stage could’ve been stunning, it looks way too crowded. Lighting at several times (not just here but in the other works) makes the dancers appear too flat, as if they’re not illuminated enough from the side.
Overall, the concert is a refreshing reprieve from the usual holiday ballet fare. While it may be difficult to convince staunch ballet patrons otherwise, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to make this alternative offering part of the annual holiday dance scene.